International urbanization experts and guests debated the governance, technology, health and democratization trends that will define future cities. Here’s their take on the biggest challenges – and solutions. 

The official opening of BLOXHUB’s new co-working space in the BLOX building down town Copenhagen was much more than bubbles and handshakes. Throughout the day, guests debated the overarching theme for the hub, our future cities, culminating in a high-level debate with four leading urbanization experts:

Helle Valentin, Global Chief Operating Officer, IBM Watson IoT, Munich
Dr. Joseph Allen, Harvard University
Indy Johar, Co-founder of Project 00
Bruce Katz, Co-founder of New Localism Advisors and member of the BLOXHUB board

 

Governance: From nation states to cities
Bruce Katz highlighted the major shifts of power that are taking place from a 20th century top-down approach, with nation states at the top of the global hierarchy, to the bottom-up networks that are defining problem solving today.

“This century is all about networks. Interdisciplinary networks that come together to address a common challenge. Cities enable these networks – and this is what BLOXHUB is all about,” said Mr. Katz.

New frameworks for technology
Helle Valentin, COO of IBM Watson IoT, illustrated the potential, technology will have in our future cities. Cities will literally be “sensorized,” with sensors transmitting infinite amounts of data to hundreds of millions of devices connected to the internet.

“The big challenge will be to make sense of the data. And, of course, to secure it. We are one of the most trusting societies in the world, but the time for blind trust is over.” Specifically, a higher degree of transparency is required, said Ms. Valentin. She mentioned IBM’s own AI charter https://www.ibm.com/blogs/think/2017/01/ibm-cognitive-principles/ as an example. The charter commits IBM to handling data with full transparency to clients, among other things.

Head of the Danish Defence Intelligence Service, Lars Findsen, who was among the guests, high-lighted the importance of collaboration between public and private entities to maintain cybersecurity, as IoT becomes more widespread. “We have seen hackers use home devices such as baby alarm and toasters to take down large corporations. We have to deal with these problems together.”

Health in bricks
Dr. Joseph Allen focused on the paradox that while we tend to dedicate a lot of our attention to our outdoor surroundings, when it comes to our health, we neglect to pay proper attention to the buildings that we spend app. 90% of our time inside.

“The most expensive part of operating buildings is the humans inside, and we are focusing on external costs. We need to build more awareness about health in buildings – what’s in my walls, in my window frame, for example.”

While many view the ongoing global urbanization as a problem, Dr. Allen sees it as an opportunity.

“It is the greatest public health opportunity we have – and designing healthier buildings are at the heart of it.”

Regional Director of the C40 network for cities added that the threat from climate change should be a real incentive to understand and design more sustainable buildings.

“We need to be better at applying big data to understand emissions from our buildings. And we need to bring cities together to exchange new solutions.”

Unlocking the human capital
The debate on a very human note, as Indy Johar turned the focus to life among the buildings. 

“Every great industrial revolution transforms what it means to be human. We must remember that every human is more powerful than artificial intelligence. The question is, how do we unlock the full capacity of being human?”

He recommends reimagining both our institutions and what they should focus on, eg. within education and the way we set up our labor market, including employment contracts.

“They are built for humans as labor units. But people should be self-authoring, it is necessary for our democracy.”

He also warned against cities closing around themselves when faced with external challenges, such as the current refugee crisis.

“Cities that do well in the future will be the cities that are able to unleash human capacity. The future has become a zero-sum game. We need to start dreaming of stars again.“